Supporting young people’s self-investment

4-H youth development programs help young people blaze their own trail to employability.

Thomas L. Freidman recently opined, “It’s a 401(k) world.” He described the hyper-connected world in which it’s possible to access incredible resources online and the shift it has caused in the expectations of employers. “We’re entering a world that increasingly rewards individual aspiration and persistence and can measure precisely who is contributing and who is not,” Friedman says. “This is not going away, so we better think how we help every citizen benefit from it.”

Some of the citizens we need to help are young people. Youth are preparing to enter a workforce where the competencies required for success can change as quickly as technology. It’s become more difficult for schools to keep up with the rapidly evolving needs of employers, so earning a college degree might not be enough to guarantee employability. As a result, adults who mentor young people might find it challenging to help them create a career path. However, these helpful tips from Michigan State University Extension can help you get started:

  • Start a discussion about the activities the young person enjoys. They are much more likely to find a satisfying career if it links to their interests and skills. There are several short online surveys that can help young people explore the links between what they enjoy doing and career clusters. As a conversation-starter, try the ISEEK Career Cluster Interest Survey or the O*Net Interest Profiler.
  • Encourage further exploration about careers that interest the young person. For example, interviewing people who are currently engaged in that profession is an excellent way to discover more detail. In addition, job shadowing will help a young person experience a typical day on the job and internships and co-op positions will help them gain an even deeper understanding of the job requirements.
  • Help them create a portfolio that highlights areas in which they possess skills or competence. As noted in the most recent 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development, these can include:
    • Social competence and interpersonal skills.
    • Cognitive competence, such as problem solving or decision-making.
    • Academic competence, demonstrated through school grades and projects.
    • Vocational competence, exhibited through work experience and habits.

By becoming familiar with the skills and competence they possess and researching the competencies that are expected by employers in the career fields that interest them, young people can begin to make connections between the two. If they discover a gap between what they possess and what employers expect, they can develop a plan to acquire education or experience to bridge that gap. In the “401(k) World” described by Friedman, contributions to one’s own employability may become the norm and proactive approaches such as these may be crucial to success.

For more information about career development, visit MSU Extension.

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